Descubriendo la esencia de Durangaldea
Surrounded by legendary mountains, this inner Biscayan region preserves all the essence, the landscapes and the traditions of the rural world.
The palaces and the medieval streets in its historic towns, the natural charm of its rural villages, the remnants of history that are still visible in every one of its corners, and its lush vegetation, rich with wildlife, are only a few examples of the major attractions of Durangaldea.
This inland region of Biscay is replete with unspoilt natural spaces, symbolic peaks, towns that still reflect the splendour of their commercial past, peaceful villages which maintain their old trades, and beautiful places with magical atmospheres. Durangaldea is without any doubt the perfect combination of tradition, heritage, and adventure.
These are some of the places you must visit and the activities you should engage in if you want to start discovering all Durangaldea has to offer:
Urkiola Natural Park. The Sierra de Aramotz, with its spectacular alpine landscapes, is a mecca for mountaineers and hikers in Bilbao Biscay. In Urkiola Natural Park, wild animals and native tree species coexist with the traditional lifestyle of its people, which has always revolved around the activities carried out at our baserris–typical farmhouses–and the shepherding of latxa sheep. This magical environment is also home to our goddess Mari, who dwells in a cave hidden at the top of the park’s highest peak, Mt Anboto. The Sanctuary of Urkiola has its own legends too. It is said, for instance, that if you are looking for a partner, you must walk around the stone at its entrance several times and your wish will be granted.
Durango. Initially consisting in the three mediaeval streets that now make up its Old Town, Durango has been the epicentre of the Durangaldea region since its foundation in the 13th century. It features landmarks such as the arch of Santa Ana, one of the baroque town gates, and the church of Santa Maria, particularly interesting because of its magnificent wooden portico. The Cruz de Kurutziaga, an expiatory monument where the people convicted for heresy were burnt in the 15th century, is another highly significant location in Durango. Other important sights include the Plaza del Mercado, the Renaissance tower house of Lariz, the decorative façade of the town hall, the mediaeval church of San Pedro de Tabira, or the Plaza Ezkurdi.
Elorrio. The town of Elorrio flourished between the 15th and 16th centuries due to the increase in trade and, as a result, its old town was dotted with emblazoned houses and gardens. The Palaces of Arespakotxaga, Arespakotxaga Azkarraga, Zearsolo, and Olazabal are a testament to that golden era, the same as the Palacio Arriola, birthplace of San Valentín de Berrio-Otxoa, whose remains rest in the beautifully decorated Basilica de la Purísima Concepción (the largest basilica in Biscay in terms of volume). To know everything about the history of Elorrio, you must complete your tour by visiting the Puerta del Campo, the church of San Agustín de Etxebarria, the former town baths or Baños Viejos, the sulphur springs, and the Fuente de Berriozabaleta, also known as the love fountain, and its romantic scenery.
Necropolis of Argiñeta. The chapel of San Adrián and the ancient oak trees that surround the necropolis of Argiñeta give a unique, almost magical, atmosphere to one of the most mysterious places in Durangaldea. This evocative funerary complex, situated in the neighbourhood of Zenita on the outskirts of Elorrio, is made up of twenty sepulchres–whose inscriptions are the earliest known written Christian records in Biscay–and five round-topped funerary stelae decorated with astral symbols dated between the 6th and 9th century.
Charming rural areas. Some of the towns and villages in Durangaldea maintain the essence of their past and their natural rhythms, as if they had been frozen in time. The rural neighbourhoods of Abadiño, Atxondo, Garai, Izurtza, Mañaria, and Zaldibar proudly preserve ancient farmhouses surrounded by pastures and vegetable gardens, forests with hidden chapels, imposing tower houses erected by feudal Lords, fields in which flocks of latxa sheep graze, vestiges of prehistoric human occupation, rivers, caves, and mountains steeped in legend.
Mount Oiz. Standing right in the middle of Biscay is Mount Oiz, one of the dwelling places of the goddess Mari, who is said to make thundering noises as she wanders around Mount Amboto in the shape of a fire scythe. In prehistoric times, this was also a place of worship for the early inhabitants of Durangaldea, whose dolmens and tumuli can still be seen on its slopes. Apart from all that, this iconic summit–with an elevation of 1,026 metres–was one of the five so called montes bocineros, from which people were called to attend the General Assemblies in Gernika by sounding horns and lighting bonfires. It is additionally a very popular mountaineering destination in Biscay, and from its top you can admire the most stunning views over the regions of Durangaldea and Lea Artibai.
The Foral Field of Gerediaga. For centuries the place was home to one of the earliest parliamentary systems in Europe, since the representatives of the 12 local governments existing in Durangaldea used to gather here to address important matters. Offering wonderful views over Urkiola Natural Park, the Gerediaga complex is nowadays formed by the chapel of San Salvador and San Clemente, the oak tree that symbolises the fueros (charters of the Biscayan people’s privileges), the Renaissance cross, and the Foral Field–a circular meeting place with the stones that served as seats for the representatives of those villages that then belonged to the Merindad.
Nature walks. At the crossroads between the coast and the more inland regions, Durangaldea has nature trails for enthusiasts of all levels. Here you can opt for short walks, like the Greenway of Arrazola that runs along the Atxondo Valley in the shadow of Mount Anboto, the North and South Routes that take you to discover the natural scenery and the interesting heritage of Iurreta, or the path between Santa Marina and Santruan that connects Zaldibar and Elorrio via forest track. Urkiola Natural Park is also packed full of footpaths that run across it, surrounding Mount Amboto, taking you from Durango to Urkiola, or departing from the Sanctuary to get to Mañaria. The five stages of the GR 229 Mikeldi Trail allow you to see each and every corner of Durangaldea, while the GR 38 The Wine and Fish Route passes through Urkiola Natural Park, Mañaria, Durango, Izurtza, Iurreta, Garai, and Berriz, to head later in the direction of Gernika, the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, and Bermeo.
Tradition and culture. Durangaldea is home to some of the most deep-rooted myths of Bilbao Biscay. This is the place where Mari, the Mother Earth Goddess in Basque mythology, resides as she likes dividing her time between Mount Anboto and Mount Oiz. Lamiaks, beautiful female creatures with duck or hen feet, are also said to hang out near streams and brooks here. And you can follow the giant gentiles’ track thanks to the cromlechs and dolmens scattered around the area. The Basque language, thousands of years old, is another distinctive cultural trait of Durangaldea. The Durango Basque Book and Record Fair, held annually, is considered to be the most important event for the Basque culture celebrated in Bilbao Biscay.
Open air adventures. Nature is the main protagonist in Durangaldea, a region where you can embark on endless adventures. Some of the best things you and your family can do together include becoming shepherds for a day in Abadiño or Urkiola, getting to know what life is like in a baserri in Elorrio, or visiting the Natural History Hontza Museum. It is also possible for you to visit a vineyard and a txakoli winery in Elorrio where you can learn more about this locally produced wine; to take a horse-riding tour in Amorebieta-Etxano, Berriz, and Elorrio; or to get on a tuk-tuk in order to discover the most spectacular landscapes of Durangaldea. For those looking for some adventure, Urkiola Natural Park offers loads of activities such as treasure hunt, geocaching, birdwatching, or orienteering trails. Adrenaline lovers cannot miss the chance to go mountainbiking in Abadiño, climb Atxarte’s and Untzillatx’s rocky slopes, or get into the Marko Cave in Urkiola Natural Park.